JOE BIDEN will take on Paul Ryan tonight and attempt to halt the Republican comeback in a vice-presidential debate with the highest stakes in recent memory.
In front of an audience of tens of millions, Barack Obama's 69-year-old vice president will try to rid voters' memories of the president's debate defeat last week, which has sparked a surge in support for Mitt Romney.
Mr Biden, a Washington veteran, must also revive Democratic morale after Mr Obama was overtaken by his Republican challenger in national opinion polls with less than a month to go before the election.
Jared Bernstein, Mr Biden's former chief economic adviser, said that after a "disappointing" showing by Mr Obama, the vice president must warn middle-class Americans about Mr Romney's plans.
"Following the presidential debate, supporters really want to see the stark differences between the two sides set out," he said. "Biden understands the policies as well as Ryan does, but he also feels how they will affect ordinary families. So I'm hopeful he will do that."
Powered by his debate win, Mr Romney has taken a lead of 0.8pc in an average of national polls, having trailed for months. A Gallup daily tracking poll yesterday found a 48-48 tie.
Mr Biden, a gaffe-prone campaigner and the blue-collar attack dog to Mr Obama's professor, faces in Mr Ryan the self-styled "intellectual heart" of today's ultra-conservative Republican party.
The 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman, beloved of the anti-government Tea Party movement, made his name with a sharp austerity plan to cut America's $1.2 trillion deficit.
As chairman of the House budget committee, he has also gained a reputation as a sharp-tongued debater willing to bury opponents under a blizzard of statistics on public spending.
On stage in Danville, Kentucky, Mr Biden is expected to focus on Mr Ryan's desire to turn Medicare, America's expensive but popular health care scheme for the elderly, into a "voucher" system that Mr Obama claims would raise insurance costs by thousands of dollars. Attempting to lower expectations of his performance, Mr Ryan's spokesman said Mr Biden was "as experienced a debater as anyone in national politics" and posed a tough challenge. However, Republicans are hoping that his tendency for verbal slips will produce moments that may do further damage to Mr Obama's unsteady campaign.
He last week told supporters that the middle class had been "buried for the past four years", handing an attack line to Mr Romney that the Republican gladly repeated during the debate in Colorado. (© Daily Telegraph, London)